Comparison of volcanic threat challenges in Iceland and Japan

Ásthildur Elva Bernhardsdóttir, Jónas Elíasson


The authorities in Iceland and Japan face various challenges in their efforts to reduce risks of volcano disasters. While Japanese society is much older and has therefore longer experience of facing those challenges the current methods and strategies of both in planning, monitoring, preparedness, relief, and recovery operations are similar. Both nations use modern scientific technologies for risk assessment and disaster management but several geological-, situational-, infrastructural- and cultural differences between the countries and differences in the practice of cooperation with scientists in disaster prevention make different tactics necessary. While both countries lie on the boundary of large tectonic plates, in Iceland the plates are diverging with heavy rifting and volcanic outbreaks in unexpected places while Japan lies along a subduction zone with tectonic events of large magnitude. Iceland has dangerous glacial floods of volcanic origin while the greatest flood hazard in Japan comes from the sea in form of tsunamis. Japan is more densely populated than Iceland, but both are developed countries where large sums of public funds are diverted into disaster prevention and recovery. There are similarities in such fields as monitoring of volcanic eruption and in the problem structure of tourist safety and other fields where cooperation between Japan and Iceland can produce results. Icelandic and Japanese scientists have achieved good results in the field of assessing the danger of volcanic ash plumes for the civil aviation and Japan is now presenting improved methods in ash cloud forecasting in the international community. It is concluded that further cooperation has very good possibilities to bring about further results. In this work the civil protection authorities have to identify and understand the influence of culture on disaster prevention and preparedness. Both societies’ experiences of long periods of isolation have, among other things, resulted in rather homogenous and self-reliant cultures that have influenced the way in which they have managed disasters. Dominant cultural values as well as competing values need to be considered in order to create consensus on how to reduce disaster risk and strengthen societal resilience.


Volcanic activity, earthquake risk, disaster management, cultural influence

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